The climate this week – 12 Oct 2020

A weekly report on the politics, economics and science of climate action

By Jenny Goldie, CCL member from the electorate of Eden Monaro, NSW.

Featured image: A brown-coal (also known as lignite) mine in the La Trobe Valley, Victoria. The Loy Yang A power plant is controversially set to burn this highly pollutant fossil fuel up until 2048. Photo by John Englart available under Creative Commons licence.

It’s budget time

The major news for this week was the federal budget, delayed because of the Covid pandemic. Environmentalists expressed their disappointment about there not being enough for renewables, too much money going to that so-far-unsuccessful Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology, money going to prop up coal-fired power station at Vales Point, the pursuit of gas, barely anything for electric vehicles, and so on. Nevertheless, there were distinct shifts in the Government’s thinking, not least the restoration of funds for science research and institutions – including CSIRO – and also for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). All will be necessary in the fight to stabilise our climate.

In its response Labor managed to capture what is critical for a viable electricity supply based on renewables, namely, transmission lines. It seems that both major parties are now having more mature discussions based on expert advice. Let’s hope it is not too late.

Queensland at a crossroads

Meanwhile, Queenslanders are gearing up for the state election at the end of the month. The state is split between the pro-coal central and north, and the climate-aware southern cities. The Climate Council has produced an excellent report that says “Queensland has the natural resources, skilled workforce and existing industrial base needed to become a renewable energy and clean industrial superpower.” They must seize the opportunity now, the report says, for the sake of the economy and jobs. but also for combatting climate change.

An American soap opera

It is hard not to be transfixed by the soap opera that is occurring in the US in the lead-up to the election of 3 November, not least with President Trump contracting Covid.  Following the shambolic debate between Trump and Biden, the vice-presidential one between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence was fairly civilised, though hardly good for climate. Even though the Democrats are offering a 2 trillion dollar climate package, Harris said Biden would not ban fracking but rather halt new projects, while Pence attacked the Paris Agreement.

Neverending coal

As you might be aware, brown coal is the most polluting of type of coal. Much of it found in Australia in the La Trobe Valley in Victoria. AGL plans to run its Loy Yang A coal-fired power station near Traralgon until 2048. Many countries and most Australian states are aiming for zero net emissions by 2050, so a 2048 closure would make it hard for Victoria to achieve that goal. There is a shareholder proposal to bring forward the closure date. Unfortunately, Aware Super – the country’s second largest super fund – and Cbus – a $54 billion construction industry fund – both plan to vote against the shareholders’ proposal at the AGM this week.

Time to act

The Independent MP for Warringah Zali Steggall has tabled her Climate Change Bill, which will be debated in Parliament on 9 November. It is modelled on the non-partisan UK Climate Act that sets a pathway to achieving zero net emissions by 2050 for the UK. If you  haven’t signed the public petition in support of the bill, you can do it now on the Climate Act Now website.

A new study based on the Victorian Black Saturday fires of 2009 has found that removing trees to thin out forests is unlikely to cut the risk of severe bushfires. This contradicts several claims of forest industry groups (and possibly a few climate change deniers). Depending on the type of trees, such intervention sometimes made fires even more intense.

The IMF joins the call for climate action

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) can hardly be considered a radical leftist body. It is noteworthy that the IMF is predicting a ­climate ­“catastrophe” if global temperatures will rise 5°C above pre-industrial levels. To avoid this outcome, governments are required to impose steadily ­rising taxes on carbon-dioxide emissions. According to the IMF fossil fuels are massively underpriced. If we are to keep the global temperature rise within 2°C, dramatic increases in low-carbon energy sources will be necessary.

Fortunately, the shift to renewables is helped by recent advances in technology. One such example is given by multilayered solar panels, which have the potential to be 1.5 times more efficient than traditional silicon panels.

More insights

The views and wishes expressed in this blog post are those of the author, and not necessarily of CCL Australia.

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